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New Delhi: When it is election season, no event or opportunity can be left unused by political adversaries to take pot shots at each other – whether it is for a festival, a solemn anniversary or brandishing a provocative foreign news article. Things were no different on Saturday.
The first half of April 13 was largely reserved for the opposition taking aim at the Bharatiya Janata Party after French newspaper Le Monde published a report that a France-registered subsidiary of Anil Ambani’s Reliance group was able to secure a favourable tax settlement in the months leading up to and after the announcement of the deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter planes.
The French newspaper noted that the surprise was that the eventual settlement – that waived off a tax demand of nearly 140 million euros – came two years after French authorities initially refused a very similar offer made by Reliance.
Nevertheless, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala claimed that the report was an indication of the “money trail as the payback for buying the jets at an exorbitant rate”. “Layers of connivance, crony capitalism and corruption are now getting unveiled,” he said at a press conference in Delhi.
In multiple tweets, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury accused the BJP of using public money to buy fighter planes at a higher rate to “benefit a crony businessman through the defence deal and French tax benefit”.
The whole nexus is now coming out into the open. PMO was directly involved in Rafale scam bypassing our Air Force, and NSA was illegally negotiating in Paris. As former French President said, Modi asked for Anil Ambani as a partner for the deal. And now this – French tax waivers pic.twitter.com/djgZxkLzax
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) April 13, 2019
He also termed the defence ministry’s statement rejecting the allegations in Le Monde as showing that the Indian government has “something to hide”. “The keenness to protect Modi’s crony in the case of corruption in a defence deal is palpable,” tweeted Yechury.
The Congress also referred to the Le Monde report in a tweet taunting finance minister Arun Jaitley, who had tried to raise doubts on Rahul Gandhi’s educational qualifications.
A day earlier, the Congress social media eco-system had a field day over the changing declarations by Union minister Smriti Irani about her educational degrees. Jaitley cautioned that the focus on Irani could backfire as Gandhi had obtained “an MPhil without a Masters degree”. Congress had retorted that Cambridge university allows undergraduates to apply for MPhil.
The Rafale deal was also raised in Kolhapur, Maharashtra by Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar to slam Modi.
“The Rafale deal was not acceptable to Manohar Parrikar. He therefore resigned from the post of Defence minister and returned to Goa,” Pawar told reporters on Saturday.
He also said that Modi was just diverting people’s attention as he had been unable to fulfil the promises made during the 2014 poll campaign. A day earlier, Modi had criticised Pawar for joining hands with the Congress who had been “weak regarding terrorists and Pakistan”.
The state of Maharashtra is witnessing a straight fight between the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and the Nationalist Congress Party-Congress coalition.
Modi’s direct personal attacks on Pawar are seen as part of an aggressive BJP plan to cap the influence of the NCP, especially as Lok Sabha results could have an effect on state assembly elections six months later.
Meanwhile, India marked a centenary since Brigadier General Reginald Dyer order his troops to open fire on a gathering of unarmed civilians in Amritsar. There were tributes from President Ram Nath Kovind and Modi to the martyrs of the massacre.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who arrived in Amritsar on Friday night, paid personal homage at the memorial on Saturday morning. He was accompanied by chief minister Amarinder Singh, state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and other Congress leaders.
Before that, when he arrived in the city, Gandhi along with Singh had gone straight to the Golden Temple.
This led to Union minister and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal to take a dig at the Punjab chief minister for not obtaining an apology from the Congress chief for Operation Bluestar.
Pb CM @capt_amarinder took @RahulGandhi to Sri Akal Takht Sahib but lacked courage to ask him admit the @INCIndia‘s sin of demolishing Sikhs’ highest religio-temporal seat with tanks & mortars. What a contrast with demand for British apology for #JallianwalaBaghMassacre !
— Harsimrat Kaur Badal (@HarsimratBadal_) April 13, 2019
Amarinder Singh retorted by claiming that Badal’s in-laws should have apologised for their great-grandfather hosting General Dyer for a “lavish dinner” on the day of the massacre in 1919.
Did you, your husband @officeofssbadal or his father, Prakash Singh Badal, ever apologise for your great grandfather, Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia’s lavish dinner to Gen Dyer on the day of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre? He was later knighted in 1926 for his loyalty and his deeds. https://t.co/SMNwbivbnR
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) April 13, 2019
This is not the first time that Congress and Akali leaders have clashed over the Amritsar massacre. In February, there was a similar trading of accusations, with Sidhu quoting from books by B.N. Dutta and Khuswant Singh to claim that Sundar Singh Majithia had praised General Dyer.
After the Punjab chief minister’s response, Harsimrat Badal posted a picture of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala with an unknown Britisher. The picture had accompanying text which claimed that Captain Amarinder Singh’s grandfather had told Dyer in a telegram that his actions were “correct”. Badal attributed the source to a website called ‘Daily Sikh Update’. However, the website, which doesn’t list details about administrators or owners, cites no source for this allegation.
News from the states
In most states across the country, there was similar sniping between the two key political parties, with the campaign gearing up for the second phase.
In an interview to News 18 last week, former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi claimed that sitting chief minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar had send party strategist Prashant Kishore to meet with her husband Lalu Yadav at least five times in “attempts to reunite the two parties”. She also claimed that Kishore had urged Lalu to declare himself as a candidate for prime minister.
Kishore took to twitter on Saturday to urge Lalu to tell the media about “what transpired between me and him and who gave an offer to whom”.
The scion, Tejashwi Yadav, then jumped in. “Why is Nitish maintaining silence? He should come out and speak. Prashant Kishor has been meeting us, it is written in Lalu’s book also. Prashant should first take permission from Nitish and then tweet,” he said, as per News 18.
After reports of malfunctioning of electronic voting machines across Andhra Pradesh, Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu met with the Election Commission in Delhi on Saturday.
The state witnessed over 74% voter turnout, but the high percentage was marred by multiple reports of faulty EVMs.
After submitting a memorandum to chief election commissioner Sunil Arora, Naidu told reporters that the EC “is working on instructions of PM Modi and the government of India”.
According to the Indian Express, it was decided that there would be a more detailed discussion on functioning of EVMs with the deputy election commissioner Sudeep Jain and D.T. Sahani, chairman of the Technical Expert Committee.
However, the meeting was called off after the EC objected to the presence of Hari K. Prasad in the TDP delegation.
Election Commission then wrote a letter to the TDP objecting to Prasad’s inclusion in the delegation. Prasad had been arrested for stealing an EVM in 2010, which he then used to allegedly demonstrate vulnerabilities to tampering in the machine.
In the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati hit back at Yogi Adityanath’s remark that the choice was between ‘Ali and Bajrangbali’ in the elections.
At a rally in Badaun on Saturday, she said, “I want to tell him that both Ali and Bajrang Bali are ours… So we want both Ali as well as Bajrang Bali”.
She added that Bajrang Bali, another name for Lord Hanuman, belonged to the BSP due to his ‘lower’ caste. “His caste was not revealed by me but by the UP chief minister himself… I am grateful to him for making us aware of such crucial information about our ancestors.”
Last Wednesday, Adityanath had stated that if the “Congress, the SP and the BSP have faith in Ali, then we too have faith in Bajrang Bali.” His remarks were referring to Mayawati’s speech in Deoband, when she had called for Muslims to back the gathbandhan.
Meanwhile, the endless saga of a probable Congress-AAP alliance for Delhi’s seven seats remains alive in newspaper columns.
Congress had earlier said that they were ready for alliance with Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, but were not ready for any seat-sharing adjustment in Haryana or other states.
However, senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia made a new offer on Saturday for sharing 18 seats in Delhi, Haryana and Chandigarh. Later in the day, Congress announced candidates for six out of 10 seats in Haryana.
While AAP had entered into an alliance with Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) in Haryana on Friday, Sisodia indicated that they will talk to their new partners if Congress agreed to the “new offer”.
Congress’s Delhi in-charge P.C. Chacko reiterated on Saturday that it was “impractical to have an alliance in any state apart from Delhi”.